From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – The month of May is traditionally the month dedicated to the Blessed Mother in our church. Countless May crownings, novenas, rosaries, and a myriad of other celebrations occur in parishes throughout the diocese and indeed the world.
May also is the month when many of our ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate occur. This year is no different when in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on May 20, Bishop Joseph Kopacz will ordain Tristan Stovall to the transitional diaconate, and on May 27, he will ordain Deacon Carlisle Beggerly to the priesthood. This is definitely an exciting time for our diocese to celebrate Holy Orders being conferred on two young men.
Looking at our current clergy and many of the past, May was the month to get ordained. Bishop Kopacz himself was ordained on May 7; Bishop Joseph Latino was ordained on May 25, and Bishop William Houck was ordained a priest on May 19 and a bishop on May 27.
Noting this, I decided to look in Bishop Richard O. Gerow’s diary back to his early days to possibly find something on his ordination. He narrowly missed being ordained a priest in May as he was ordained June 5; and he was ordained a bishop on Oct. 15. He was born on May 3, so in a way he was ordained into life in May.
But in looking at his entries in May 1927 while doing some research on the Great Flood of that year, I found a unique entry about the ordination of Thomas J. Toolen as the Bishop of Mobile on May 4, of that year. Bishop Toolen would have been the bishop to ordain Bishop Houck to the priesthood in 1951, so we have a definite connection to him.
Bishop Houck often shared many wonderful stories about Bishop Toolen, who uniquely was given the title of Archbishop prior to Mobile becoming an archdiocese. Anyway, I would like to share Bishop Gerow’s warm account of the celebration and his love for his hometown.
“At the time that I received the request of Bishop-Elect [Thomas J.] Toolen to serve as his Junior Co-Consecrator I felt highly honored and elevated. Naturally it made me happy to think that I was to have a very important part in raising to the dignity of the Episcopacy the new Bishop of my own native Mobile for I still love Mobile.
“I had not known personally the new Bishop-Elect, but since he was to be the new Bishop of Mobile where I had been born and which had been my childhood home and where I had spent fifteen happy years of my priestly life, I felt that we belonged together. Accordingly, I immediately accepted the invitation.
“On May 4, the date of the Consecration, I was in Baltimore for the ceremony. Archbishop Curley was the Consecrator, Bishop Keyes was the Senior Co-Consecrator, and I did my part as Junior Co-Consecrator.
“The Consecration of a Bishop is a beautiful and impressive ceremony. In order to give it dignity it takes place within the ceremony of the Mass. I still remember the ceremony of my own Consecration – just three years ago – and this ceremony now brings back most vividly to my memory all that took place on that occasion.
“The reading of the Papal document that called him to the Bishop’s office, the Litany of the Saints calling upon the blessed in Heaven to join us in prayer, the imposition of hands by the Consecrator and the two Co-Consecrators, the anointing of the head with chrism, the receiving of the mitre and the blessing of the people, and many other beautiful parts of the ceremony made me live over again the happy occasion of my own Consecration.”
These next few paragraphs are from the 1924 entries to Bishop Gerow’s diary and feature his memories of his own consecration celebration in Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Mobile on Oct. 15, 1924.
“The ceremony was in the Cathedral of Mobile, and this was proper. Within its shadow I had been born; within its walls, baptized; here I had served for many years as an altar boy; here I had been confirmed; and since my ordination to the priesthood, here had been my only appointment; here was the only parish in which I had ever had a domicile.
“The Consecrating Prelate was Bishop Edward Allen, who had always been to me as a father. He had sent me to college to try my vocation; he had kept me near him during my years as a priest; and I feel that his example and training have done much to mold my priestly life.
“The Co-Consecrators were Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard and Bishop James A. Griffin, the latter a close companion during my years of study in Rome. A magnificent sermon was preached by Very Reverend Edward Cummings, S.J. Provincial, with whom I had been closely associated during his years at Spring Hill College.”
I often find myself in Mobile and visit the cathedral. After reading these two entries, I now have an even deeper connection to this sacred space. All are invited to our beautiful cathedral on May 20 and May 27 to celebrate these young men entering into Holy Orders. This May is a fine time for our diocese.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)